A new chapter in a living legacy

The University of Utah’s Physician Assistant Program turns 50 this year, and it’s getting a big birthday present. Funded by a gift from Don and Kathy Pedersen, the Don Pedersen Endowed Chair in the Division of Physician Assistant Studies is Utah’s first endowed chair in PA studies.

“The Pedersens’ legacy as leaders, mentors, and innovators has been intertwined with that of our Physician Assistant Program for most of its existence,” says Kola Okuyemi, MD, MPH, chair of family and preventive medicine at the School of Medicine. “We are grateful they chose to deepen that connection with this generous gift.”

The first chairholder

Virginia Valentin

The chair’s inaugural holder will be Virginia L. Valentin, DrPH, PA-C, associate professor and division chief. Michael L. Good, MD, CEO, University of Utah Health, will appoint her to the chair in a ceremony later this year.

“Virginia has a very clear-eyed way of seeing what’s ahead in our field,” Don Pedersen says. “I compare her to Wayne Gretzky — she skates to where the puck is going to be.”

Kathy Pedersen adds, “She’s intelligent, she’s visionary, she’s motivated, and she has great communication skills. Virginia sort of has all the pieces you’d want, rolled into one.”

The endowed chair offers Valentin flexible resources to advance important initiatives within the PA division.

“To be named the first Pedersen Chair, and associated with all of the amazing things that Don has done in his life, is so humbling,” says Valentin. “I’m grateful Kathy and Don have provided us this opportunity for growth. I plan to make them proud.”

Don Pedersen’s distinguished career

Don, an alumnus of the U’s PA Program, became its academic coordinator in 1979. He directed the program 1989 to 2010. During that time, it went from a federally funded certificate program to a Master’s-granting graduate program.

Beyond the borders of the campus, Don has made an indelible mark on the PA profession itself. Among other accomplishments, he launched the first research grant program as president of the organization now known as the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA). The author of more than 75 articles and book chapters about clinical practice and education, he also founded the first scholarly publication in the field, the Journal of Physician Assistant Education.

“Don Pedersen is the master storyteller of the physician assistant movement in Utah,” says PA historian Roderick Hooker. “With his importance to the profession, it’s appropriate that this endowed chair in a PA program should bear his name.”

Pedersen impact is felt worldwide

The Pedersens helped initiate the PA program’s clinical activities in Papua New Guinea and Thailand, where Don volunteered following the 2004 tsunami. In more than 30 years with the program, Kathy has worked to bring student rotations to Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Such rotations nurture global health curricula and help develop physician assistant–like lines of work in those areas.

In 2011, the Pedersens founded Global Partners, a project that directs expertise from U of U Health to train providers in areas like the Thailand-Myanmar border and Morocco.

The Pedersen legacy of giving

The Pedersen Chair is the latest expression of the couple’s prolific giving. They have endowed numerous scholarships and grants within the PA program and at national professional organizations. They also raised funds for the combat medic sculpture—a tribute to the PA profession’s founders—outside the program’s main building.

“In a lot of ways, you’re judged by the company you keep,” says Jared Spackman, current director of the U’s PA Program. “We have the unique good fortune of keeping company with the Pedersens and benefiting from their passion, innovation, and philanthropy.”